"I'm always of the view that this is a grossly under-rated and neglected recording. Kubelik's conducting is, by any standard, masterful - the tempi are always well-chosen, the tension never sags and the build-up to the great climaxes are both natural and inexorable. He is keenly aware of the structure and beauties of the score and is able to convey them to the full. The performance of the orchestra is excellent and the choral support is also fine. The chief vocal glory of the set lies in Gundula Janowitz's Elsa. Her singing is of instrumental purity and her phrasing impeccable. If she's dramatically a bit on the cool side, her's is certainly one the best sung Elsa ever. James King copes well with the vocal demands of the title role but his voice is, as always, a bit monotonous. Gwyneth Jones is a squally Ortrud but her vocal characterisation is quite marvellous - her calls to Elsa in Act II can chill one to the marrow. Thomas Stewart is a competent Telramund who copes valiantly with this actually very demanding part and Karl Ridderbusch makes a solid and majestic King Henry. The smaller roles are generally cast from strength. It's indeed a fine performance that one shouldn't miss, in particular as the set is in mid-price."
One of the three finest recordings of Lohengrin!
RENS | Dover, NH USA | 04/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with Mr. Lau (the previous reviewer) that this magnificent performance under the direction of Raphael Kubelik is greatly under-rated and neglected. I similarly concur with Mr. Lau's evaluation of the singers, except that I find James King even more effective than he does.
Those who love this opera will want to search out and consider (and very likely purchase) two other recordings. The first is the live recording of a 1954 Bayreuth performance under the direction of Eugen Jochum on the Opera D'Oro label (very inexpensive). The mono sound is very good. For starters, look it up here on amazon.com and read the reviews! The second (and most often admired) is the 1964 EMI studio recording under the direction of Rudolph Kempe with the Vienna Philharmonic. It is available at mid-price. The stereo sound, as with the Kubelik recording, is outstanding in clarity and depth. Both the Jochum and the Kempe recordings are readily available. DG (Universal) does not make the Kubelik recording generally available in the USA, so one has to hunt it down as a special import at higher cost. It is worth the hunt and the cost.
Kubelik's other Wagner recordings have deservedly won highest praise, but they, too, are hard to find and often neglected. They are listed on amazon.com and it is worth your while seeking them out: Die Meistersinger and Parsifal were recorded in glorious stereo sound with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and with casts that cannot be bettered. They were recorded in the 1980s and each released some 15 to 20 years later on less known or in-house European labels."
A Lohengrin for the ages
Frank Bosco | sanctuary | 03/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the Lohengrin of all time. After having listened to this performance for many years on LP, I am thrilled to have it on CD as well. James King has a voice of bronze and Janowitz is an angel as Elsa. The supporting cast is wonderful as is the orchestral playing."
Competition for the Kempe studio recording
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 01/13/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having been slightly disappointed by the live 1954 Jochum and 1953 Keilberth recordings - mainly because of deficiencies in Windassen's assumption of the eponymous hero and even in some of the deeper voices - turning to this recording was balm to my ears. In the reviews I have read, no-one has much remarked on the beauty of sound; a slight reverberance, real depth, crisp detail and a proper sense of theatre without the Bayreuth hackers who blight the quieter moments in the live recordings, especially the Jochum. The next thing to emphasise is the beauty of the voices. Several performances here are definitive; Kubelik was always so sympathetic to his artists and he gives them space to make their points without dragging. One first hears Nienstedt, Ridderbusch and Stewart as the Herald, the King and Telramund respectively - and what a joy it is to hear such firm, characterful, resonant, virile voices. Stewart in particular surprised me - though I was already familiar with his lovely Sachs in Kubelik's equally recommendable "Meistersinger"; he is every bit as expressive and grateful on the ear as the great Uhde and more so than Fischer-Dieskau in his nonetheless estimable performance for Kempe. The chorus is terrific; the orchestra precise and energised, and Kubelik confirms his status as perhaps my favourite of all conductors. As for Janowitz, she is a dream. That silvery, plangent tone is ideally suited to the ethereal (slightly loopy!) Elsa. Just listen to her exchange with Ortrud in Band 5 of the second disc if you need convincing -which brings me to the most controversial piece of casting in this recording: Gwyneth Jones' Ortrud. Jones had a huge voice and the vibrato became obtrusive too early in her career, but here I think her malignancy and subtlety of characterisation carry the day. The occasional squalliness is not inappropriate and she is mostly dead on the note and really exciting; I think that others have exaggerated the wobble and their repugnance for it - I've certainly heard much worse and I admire her vehemence and intelligence. If you're unsure, try her "Entweihte Goetter" (the chilling invocation to demonic powers a la Lady Macbeth); I think it's great. Rather than play safe, she goes for it. You will notice that I have not mentioned James King. His is a fine, often gently sung, performance, preferable to the bleatiness of Windgassen - at least to my ears - though I would not say he is here at his very best; elsewhere, in other recordings, his voice sounds less grainy.
So if you want a studio alternative to the famous Kempe, rather than a historically important live recording, this is it. I have known the Kempe for years and particularly admire Ludwig's Ortrud and Thomas's Lohengrin; his is probably the best assumption of all of the lead role. I'm glad to own both - but I shall return again and again to Janowitz's Elsa."
A superb and underrated Lohengrin
Howard M. Bushnell | NJ, USA | 10/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Briefly, I do not at all agree with the reviews that found fault with the sound. On my excellent stereo system, the sonics are nothing short of stupendous. I also disagree with the many people who have problems with Gwyneth Jones. To my ears, the voice is gorgeous, dramatic, thrilling. I do not hear squalling, and as for pitch, there is occasionally a little vibrato, but nothing unattractive. This is a set to treasure and to hear often. (Disclosure: I have 9 recordings of Lohengrin, and what I want from this work is beauty over everything else.)"